31 August 2011

The Changing Face of Europe

If a picture can paint a thousand words this one certainly does. Welcome to most Western European cities today - Islam meets western capitalism.

30 August 2011

Phew - Beautiful... and WAY Expensive!

Lake Geneva and the Swiss countryside from the train.
Switzerland is arguably one of the most beautiful places on earth. It is arguably one of the most expensive as well, when the exchange rate of the Swiss France is GOOD in relation to the Euro and Dollar. Well in the past 6 months the Franc has strengthened by more than 20% against the dollar.
       I am in Switzerland for the week at the moment, and trying to figure out how to be here while NOT having to take out a second mortgage on my house to buy a coffee! Today's small latte at a cafe cost SF 4.80 which is US$6.00 at today's rate. Quite mind-boggling really. Well I better enjoy the views and scenery, I'm paying for them!

29 August 2011

Watching the World on Public Transport

The world passed by me the other day as I made my way from Brussels to Geneva via a Brussels train station, Brussels airport, Geneva airport, and train several train stations in Switzerland.
       I consciously listened to the languages people were speaking in these places, and tried to figure out their culture. There were some languages I did not know, but most of them I could identify. They were:
  • French
  • German
  • Dutch (and Flemish)
  • English
  • Chinese (of some variety)
  • Italian
  • Russian
  • Thai or Vietnamese (a tonal language which always sounds like the person is angry!)
  • Spanish
  • Swedish
  • Norwegian or Danish (could not tell)
  • Portugese
  • Japanese
  • An African language/dialect which I could not identify
  • Polish
Not a bad start to the day! And it was not even mid-afternoon yet!

28 August 2011

Considering a New Film

I was in Brussels the other day watching BBC news on TV. They had a feature on a new movie from America entitled, "Higher Ground." It's the story of an American woman's spiritual journey to find God and Jesus.
       The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and has received positive reviews. Films such as this have often been cheesy and a bit embarrassing for people of faith (such as myself). I hope this is a better depiction of a person's doubts and discoveries of a good and gracious God.
       If you have heard of the film or seen it please leave a comment here. I'd like to hear people's input about it.

25 August 2011

Europe, How I LOVE Thee!

I arrived in Brussels from the U.S. a few hours ago. Travel is always draining for me - 15 hours to get to Brussels, arriving at 7:30am local time.
       Whenever I first arrive back in Europe I try to be mindful of what I notice right away. I have never flown directly into Brussels from the U.S. before, so it's newer to me than flying into Amsterdam or Geneva.
       Some things that struck me anew today and that I love about Europe:
* Multi-cultural - I feel like I walked into the United Nations coming into Brussels Airport. And then is the country of Belgium itself - with both French and Flemish and not knowing which language someone will be speaking;
* History - In Europe the word "old" refers to something from 1,000 years ago, in America is refers to something 300 years ago;
* Coffee - had a fabulous cup of coffee at my friend Nada's just now. Coffee is so much better in Europe than in America (sorry Starbucks fans);
* Public transport - I stood in the Brussels train station for 5 minutes figuring out how to get to the metro. I felt like a foreigner, in a good sort of way.

23 August 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane

I take off tomorrow for two weeks in Europe. I have been looking forward to this trip for some time. I will be in Brussels for 2 days, Switzerland for a week, and Amsterdam for a few days.
     The main reason I am going to be in Europe is to speak at a leadership gathering of Medair, a relief agency based in Switzerland. I will also be preaching one Sunday and will be visiting staff in Brussels and folks in Amsterdam.
     I do not know how many times I have flown between Europe and the U.S., but I know that the novelty of it wore off a long time ago. I wish I could be on Star Trek and get beamed directly to Brussels at the blink of an eye! Somehow the technology of the 21st century has not yet caught up with the 1968 Star Trek show.

20 August 2011

A Classic from Johnny Cash

Toward the end of his life Johnny Cash recorded the Nine-Inch Nails song "Hurt" with his own rendition. It is a classic.

18 August 2011

A Church Blesses the Disabled

Flatirons Church in Lafayette, CO hosts an evening each year for the mentally/physically disabled in their area. They call the evening "Shine," where they roll out the red carpet (literally) for these friends who are often overlooked in our society. This is the second year they have done it.
     It is at times like this that the CHURCH is truly the CHURCH! It is when the Church truly reflects being the "bride of Christ." Well done, Flatirons!

2011 Shine Recap from Flatirons Community Church on Vimeo.

17 August 2011

21 Days, 14 States, 6,000 miles

I returned yesterday from a 21-day road trip which brought me to 14 states over 6,000 miles. Phew, what a trip!
Steven driving in the middle
of the night thru Missouri.
     I'm grateful that my family was with me for a week, and Steven drove about half the miles with me which was really fun.
     A few things struck me anew about America as I traveled from place-to-place. I marvel at what makes America the America it is. It has problems - BIG problems actually - but there is also a fabric which holds the country together.
     So here are some thoughts on my trip:
   1) America is more like an assortment of mini-cultures rather than a homogenous unit. The worldview in the Midwest (Missouri for example) is so radically different than the Northeast;
   2) High brow Northeast intellectualism is unlike anything else in the U.S. Steven and I visited three Ivy League schools and could have gotten bloody noses from breathing the rarified air of those contexts;
   3) The Civil War is ancient history to northerners (Yankees) like me; it is fresh news to many southerners. General Robert E. Lee is alive in the memories of those living in Dixie;
   4) Coming home to Denver I realize how much cultures change when you go from the Midwest of Kansas to the Mountain State of Colorado. Mountain states people are rugged individualists, Midwesterners and Southerners are more community oriented;
   5) I did not travel to the West Coast on this trip, but I have been in California, Oregon, and Washington many times. That's the subject for another blog post, since the left coast is literally and metaphorically as far as the east is from the west.

16 August 2011

A Timely Response Regarding Islam in Europe

The following is a response I received from someone I know regarding The New York Times article about Muslims in Holland.
     At the request of this person they need to remain anonymous as well as the country where they live.
     I am deeply grateful for people such as this friend whose heart has been transformed toward people with very different beliefs and views than they have.
"Thanks for posting this Brian. Sounds similar to the situation in my country. Just makes me think how important it is for the church to become a place where true reconciliation happens, xenophobia is challenged and fear of the other is banished.       It is up to us to have the courage to reach out to those around us, to not fear those who are different from ourselves. As I have done this with people around me, befriending them, inviting them into my home, without exception I have encountered people who are lonely and isolated, lost in their host country, living in poverty and accustomed to being treated with disrespect and hatred on a daily basis (one friend was punched in the face 3 times by a man in the street because of her headscarf).     With all of these people, who have become friends, until we met, they had never had an opportunity to get to know Westerners, to form friendships with people who are different from themselves and to begin to learn something of the values and the culture they find themselves in. They had rarely experienced love, respect and acceptance in their host culture. Time and again we have seen these friends be touched and transformed as they encounter the fragrance of life. These friendships have proven to be transformational for all involved... and to fuel me with hope every day that Jesus teachings of reconciliation provide us with the way forward.     If we stay in a place of fear, with a desire to protect ourselves from the unknown and different, and never move towards others, then we continue to allow the gulf of separation between us to deepen. It is easy to hate people that you don't know, have never talked with, laughed or cried with. But once you begin sharing meals together, becoming community, love and concern for the other comes along and this hatred becomes impossible, even ridiculous... and this is when each time we come across something that separates us (beliefs/practices/politics/whatever) we instead seek for what unites us, and learn to peacefully and respectfully live alongside each other.....all the while both sides, 'them' and 'us' being mutually transformed.     When Jesus taught ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ he was speaking into a politically charged situation, where people felt deep anger & hatred towards their Roman oppressors. They were looking to Jesus for some kind of solution. These words went against everything their flesh and good sense told them, yet Jesus presented them with a way forward of love, peace, humility, forgiveness and sacrifice."

14 August 2011

An Important Discussion in Europe

Albert Cuyp Market in Amsterdam - the meeting of cultures.
The New York Times published an article this week entitled, "Amid Rise of Multiculturalism, Dutch Confront Their Questions of Identity." Click HERE to read the article on the Times website.
       This is an extremely important conversation for the Church to be in, and one which demands prayer and our engagement. I feel a great sense of urgency about this and hope many others do as well.

13 August 2011

New Family Photo

For all of you who have photos of us on your refrigerator from a bunch of years ago, here's the most recent shot of our family (taken today at my nephew Dan's wedding in Richmond, VA).

10 August 2011

Famine and Downgrading Credit Scores

Somali child suffering from chronic malnutrition last week.
The year was 1986, the place was Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was the first time I encountered another human being starving to death.
      His name was Sukamar, a 3-year-old Bengali who I met in a children's hospital when I was visiting Bangladesh as a journalist for a relief agency.
       I got to know this little boy and his mother over a week's time. I thought he was slowly improving. He was gaining weight, his vacant eyes had begun to fill with hope. Then I walked into the hospital on a Saturday morning to visit him only to learn he had died over night.
       And my idealism about the world was shattered.
       Today I read again about famine in Somalia - the UN says that hundreds of thousands of children could die in the Horn of Africa. It reminded me of the tragedy of Sukamar from 25 years ago.
       I have also been reading and listening about the U.S.'s credit rating being downgraded from AAA to AA+. Quite the juxtaposition with the situation in Somalia! I find myself gasping at how ludicrous is the debate among politicians and policy makers about a credit rating while famine ravages a part of the world. I simply cannot fathom the painful irony of it all.

09 August 2011

Bonhoeffer on "Worldliness"

"I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that is it only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world. That, I think, is faith." 

08 August 2011

My Dad's Old Stomping Grounds

I love this picture that I snapped of Steven and my dad on a street in Manhattan this weekend. We went into the city to have lunch with my extended family and my dad, Steven, my cousin Artie, and I went for a walk. We were standing in front of a French restaurant on 3rd Avenue and 80th Street.
       I cannot remember when I was in New York City with my dad. It must be 20 or more years. These are his old stomping grounds from the 1930s and 1940s! It was such a great experience to have my 17-year-old son strolling down 3rd Avenue with his 85-year-old grandfather.
       The car behind them in the picture had just been parallel parked by a Russian woman and she left the front wheels turned out. Dad reminded Steven and me that leaving the wheels turned after you park messes up the front end alignment! I love that my dad tells us those things. It's priceless.

07 August 2011

An Acquaintance's Last Poem

Someone I know as an acquaintance died suddenly a few days ago. I was supposed to meet with him the day before he was heading on a fishing trip to Wyoming or Montana. But I had to postpone due to a scheduling conflict. We will meet again - but not on this side of eternity.
       A friend sent me the last poem that this person wrote before he suffered a brain aneurysm. Wonderful, compelling words from a life lived well:

wind sings through the pine as
bird song echoes across the field
together a halleluia chorus of
praise for the Father/Son of Creation

there is another song deep within
the heart of everyman, appearing
at first as a humming low
without definition almost silent

Yet it beckons with rhythm and
harmony that draws him to
the source of all song -- the
beat and rhythm of the soul

Much of life is accompanied by
this quiet time keeping us in
places and pace for living but
then comes a time

that this quiet song beats louder
bolder noisier unrelenting
demanding to be heard and embraced
let out, marched to and lived

It is the halleluia chorus of
living in freedom, beauty,
peace and harmony in praise
for the Father/Son Creator

05 August 2011

Onto The Big Apple

I drove from York, Pennsylvania to New Jersey yesterday and picked up Steven at the airport last night. He and I are spending the weekend in New York City with a packed schedule:
   * College visits at New York University and Columbia today;
   * Seeing various family members over the weekend - parents, brother and sister-in-law, nephew;
   * Time with good friends Joe and Betsy we are staying with in NJ;
   * Visiting a church on Sunday and going to a concert at Brooklyn Tabernacle Sunday afternoon.
     So it will be a packed time. I am looking forward to being with Steven for these days and exploring options for him to be here for college. It would be a hoot for me if he landed here (although I do know that my child's choice of college is NOT about me!! :o)
     I absolutely love New York City - the immediacy of it, the intensity, the culture, and of course the knishes you buy from street vendors!
     I'll post some photos of our time in the Big Apple. Stay tuned.

04 August 2011

Stott's "The Cross of Christ"

Some quotes from John Stott's book, The Cross of Christ.
"I could never myself believe in God, if it were not for the cross.  The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as “God on the cross.”  In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?
       "I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world.  But each time after a while I have had to turn away.
       "And in imagination I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in Godforsaken darkness.  That is the God for me!  He laid aside his immunity to pain.  He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death.  He suffered for us.  Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his.  There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross that symbolizes divine suffering.
       "The cross of Christ . . . is God’s only self-justification in such a world” as ours. . . . “The other gods were strong; but thou wast weak; they rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne; But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.”

03 August 2011

Here's to Gabrille Giffords

In an otherwise low point in American politics, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords returned to the floor of the House of Representatives to vote on the debt ceiling bill. While many of us have been thoroughly disgusted with the childishness of the Congress these past days, Rep. Giffords brought a dose of integrity and dignity to the political realm. For this I am grateful.

02 August 2011

The Smallest County in the East

Piseco Lake Post office: Zip code 12139
       The least populated county in the U.S. east of the Mississippi River is Hamilton County in New York State. Population: less than 5,000 residents.
       One of the towns in Hamilton County is Piseco Lake, which has 210 residential addresses. Piseco has its own post office though (see photo for proof), Casey's Corner market which also has a gas pump. There used to be a restaurant where you could get breakfast but it closed down a few years ago.
       I spent much of last weekend in Piseco at a little hideaway camp owned by my friend Jim. It was a glorious time - a tad disorienting without Internet or phone access and because life is so incredible SLOW in those parts. But I have also not slept so soundly nor relaxed more fully than I did over the weekend. When the circumstances dictate that life slow to a crawl in a place like Piseco I take my cue!

01 August 2011

First Day of Ramadan

The first prayer time of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is at 4:23am U.S. East Coast time today (I am currently in York, Pennsylvania on this time zone).
I set the alarm today for 4:15am to begin this month interceding for the 1.3 billion Muslims around the world. I hope you will join in this prayer movement.